Mannheim Steamroller to perform in Tulsa
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2012
12/23/12 at 5:22 AM
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but for Mannheim Steamroller's Chip Davis, adversity seems to be the key to success.
When Davis first came up with the idea for Mannheim Steamroller, and created the album "Fresh Aire" to showcase what he called his "18th-century classical rock," none of the major record labels wanted it.
So Davis created his own record label, American Gramophone, and set about getting his music to the public.
"I realized that if anything was going to get done, I would have to do it myself," Davis said. "So I started out taking the album to high-fi stores - back when there were a lot of them around - so they could use it to demonstrate the equipment. And word-of-mouth built from that."
Davis faced similar opposition when he decided to apply the Mannheim Steamroller style to Christmas songs. Music industry experts told him that a Christmas album would be the end of his musical career.
That first "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas" album would sell more than 5 million copies and was followed by 11 more best-selling holiday albums and an annual tour now in its 27th season.
"In fact," Davis said, during a telephone conversation, "we have two groups touring this month. And we've had so many requests that we probably could have had three companies if we hadn't run out of musicians."
In addition to the tours, Mannheim Steamroller is also a presence at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida - where Davis leads an ensemble in a show basedon "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" - and in Las Vegas.
"Some of the people we have working on the Las Vegas show were formerly with Cirque du Soleil," Davis said. "So that production has that kind of Cirque du Soleil look and feel."
One reason for a lot of this wide-ranging activity is another tale of adversity. About six years ago, Davis was seriously injured in an auto accident and required neck surgery.
"And some of the nerves didn't come back," he said. "My right arm was out of commission for about a year. And when you're a drummer and keyboard player and composer, that's a disaster."
Davis ultimately regained some use of his right arm, although not to the point where he could perform.
"I can do short bursts," he said. "This year, when we did the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, I was able to play drums for about as long as it took us to go past where the TV cameras are. But that was about all I could do."
In the past, Davis would lead the annual holiday tours. But, as he said, "Once I discovered that we could send other people out as Mannheim Steamroller and they did well and the audiences enjoyed the show, that's when we realized we could send out multiple touring groups.
"So what I thought might be an insurmountable problem turned out to have a real silver lining," Davis said.
Davis was born in Ohio to musician parents He attended the University of Michigan where he studied bassoon and percussion, then worked as a music teacher. In the early 1970s, Davis went to work for an advertising firm in Omaha; one of its clients was Old Home Bread, for whom Davis and another adman named Bill Fries created a special persona for its commercials - a drawling truck driver named C.W. McCall.
Davis and Fries would later parlay that character into a series of hit records including the single "Convoy," which sparked the CB radio craze. The success of "Convoy" allowed Davis to start what would become Mannheim Steamroller.
The company has now become something of an empire, offering besides recordings and videos of Mannheim Steamroller music such things as clothing, scented candles and bath soaps, and food items.
"In fact," Davis said, "after the music, our best-selling item is our cinnamon hot chocolate mix. We sell tons of that."
Tulsa will be the final stop for one of the two Mannheim Steamroller groups on tour, arriving here several days after Christmas.
But for Davis, it's very easy to remain in the Christmas spirit regardless of the time of year. Just don't ask if he has a favorite Christmas song.
"I've written a Christmas song for each of my three children," he said, "and once I made the mistake of saying I happened to like one in particular. So now I just say I have three favorite Christmas songs."
What is a 'Mannheim Steamroller'?
The German city of Mannheim was a leading music center in the 1700s, and composers working there would develop unique musical techniques. One of these came to be known as the "Mannheim Walze" (Mannheim roller), an extended musical passage that built continuously to a great crescendo of sound.
When Chip Davis was trying to come up with a name for his new musical venture, he gave the term an additional twist, making it "Mannheim Steamroller."
"And you have to remember," Davis said, "these were the days of groups with names like Iron Butterfly and Vanilla Fudge, so it seemed to fit in."
MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER CHRISTMAS
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Dec. 30
Where: Chapman Music Hall, Tulsa PAC,
101 E. Third St.
Tickets: $25-$75. 918-596-7111, tulsaworld.com/mytix.
Original Print Headline: Mannheim Steamroller rolled past the odds
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
The usual suspects at Christmas ... Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller are to Christmas music what Santa Claus is to toys. Courtesy
Mannheim Steamroller performs. Courtesy